The Islamophobic responses to the attack in Brussels by Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump and Ted Cruz are playing into the hands of extremist groups like ISIS, according to a former CIA counterterrorism analyst.
“It is never a good idea to do what the terrorists want you to do, yet so many people are doing exactly that. The goal of terrorist groups is not simply to kill people but to influence their target group,” Susan Hasler, who had a 21 year career with the CIA before leaving in 2004, writes in an op-ed for CNN. “They need a hateful response to those attacks to make their point. Anti-Muslim violence and rhetoric and calls for banning and registering Muslims all play beautifully into their plans.”
Hasler specifically noted Trump and Cruz’s militaristic responses to attacks like Paris and Brussels.
“Politicians such as Donald Trump and Ted Cruz harness the attacks to advance their own ambitions. They play to the psychological need to hit back, the need to do something quick and spectacular,” she writes. “Go bomb the crap out of someone — a tack which also has the advantage of using up a lot of materiel and enriching the defense contractors who contribute so heavily to political campaigns.”
Such rhetoric is divisive, Hasler argues, and what is needed in such circumstances are ideas that come from the “middle ground.”
“Terrorists, anti-Muslim extremists, and the politicians who benefit from their anger are trying to make the middle ground a no man’s land. If you’re not with us, you’re against us,” she writes.
Donald Trump responded to the Brussels attack by saying his prior comments on Muslims and Islam — and his policies to ban Muslims from entering the United States — were correct. “This is what I’ve been saying for a long time, and I guess it’s at least a small part of the reason why I’m the No. 1 front-runner,” Trump told Fox & Friends by telephone. “I mean, people are very concerned about this, and they’re very concerned about the security of this country.”
Ted Cruz, meanwhile, called for law enforcement to police and monitor Muslim neighborhoods. “We need law enforcement resources directed there, national security resources directed there,” Cruz said. Trump told CNN he supports Cruz’s plan “100 percent.”
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) said Cruz’s statement encouraged a “fascist-like treatment of American Muslims.”
“[Cruz’s statement] is not only unconstitutional, it is unbefitting anyone seeking our nation’s highest office and indicates that he lacks the temperament necessary for any president,” CAIR said in a statement.
Reactions like these do nothing to solve the problem at hand, according to Hasler.
“Politicians scream talking points past each other without engaging in the type of real intellectual debate that leads to understanding and solutions,” she writes. “If we are ever to reduce the danger of terrorism, we must not cede the stage to the ignorant, the angry and the opportunistic.”